As a young physiologist I have the wonderful opportunity to study and understand many processes and pathways. This diversity of topics is one of the most alluring aspects of studying physiology.
On a typical day in my office, I will seek information as subcellular as how oxidative phosphorylation is uncoupled from the electron transport chain in brown adipose tissue so a hibernating mammal can thermoregulate when the ambient temperature is subfreezing. In my next breath, I’ll seek more large-scale, ecological information in an article describing how unexpected snow storms affect autumn immergence in arctic ground squirrels. After lunch, I might dabble in a search for the most effective buffer solution to preserve buccal cell integrity before DNA extraction and purification, and before heading outside to walk my pup I’ll finish an online course in neurological pain pathways in laboratory animals. I spend part of my year in the field, cutting up carrots and getting pooped on by baby squirrels, while the other part of the year I’ll be found with pipet in hand, tips shooting off like disposable rockets, and precious nucleic acids floating in tiny tubes, waiting to be quantified and qualified. This is the first level of the breadth of my research experience.
The second level of the breadth of my research experience concerns all of the pieces, parts, and logistics I must fit, understand, and coordinate to become a successful graduate student. I must be a clear, efficient, clever, nuanced communicator. When I make a decision, no matter how small or large, I must put together disparate pieces from many areas of my academic experience. I need to be an conscientious animal caretaker and a meticulous DNA isolator. I have to remember deadlines and write grant proposals. I have to be on time, efficient, and flexible. I need to deal with incredibly difficult people. I have to plan and prepare for a career. I need to think about money, and I need to think about legality. This is the second level of the breadth of my research experience.
The third level of the breadth of my research experience is how my research fits into my life at large. I have a partner, a dog, a family, a car, a belly that needs filling, and hair that needs washing. I have a cabin and I have car insurance. I have bikes and skis that need to be let out to play. I have illnesses, I have unexpected catastrophes, and I have a 29-year lifetime already past of anxieties, worries, habits, and expectations. I have to consider all of these aspects when making decisions about where to take my research. This is the third level of the breadth of my research experience.
These three levels of breadth lie on top of one another to create a life of complex, beautiful, and precious depth.